We awoke in Suva, breathing in fresh the air of no obligation, feeling the tenacious pain of our misguided attempts, and knowing a change would soon come to our group.
I broke off from Garrett and Jackie in the morning to visit the village carrier, as Abel and Daiana were navigating to the coast to see us one more time. Abel, thoroughly saddened that he slept through our departure the day before, was elated to see me, and Daiana sunk a little when she heard Garrett wasn't meeting the carrier.
Abel helped me find a copier that could duplicate some valuable resources on tutoring children in reading, which I promised to provide to the teachers at Nakavika. We ran around the city, finishing jobs I wanted to perform, but didn't finish in enough time to make it back to the carrier. Seeing it round the nearby corner, Abel grabbed the copied book and went sprinting through Suva, flying past crosswalks, causing every street lounger and vendor to stare and wonder what was going on. Smoke came out of his heels, but he still didn't make it. We laughed and wheezed for about an hour.
Sitting along the boardwalk, Abel told me he was sent by the committee we had met with two days prior - the ones that were determined to make us stay. I let him know the other two had changed their flights for the next day, and there was no way I was carrying on without Garrett.
The four of us had dinner that evening to mark an end to our collaboration. We had chic meals of various cultural influences. We were reserved but jovial. It was a farewell dinner with strong undertones of melancholy.
And then there was one...
Before the sun had warmed up the skies and our breakfasts digested, we were saying goodbye - Jackie and I until we returned to Indy, Garrett and I until the fates bring us back together, who knows when. Hugging Garrett, as I have at the end of many a trip, this time felt the most upsetting. Our embraces flanked a library-stuffing list of experiences that brought us to tears and more. We created the experience for ourselves. We endured and conjured together a life-changing trip that brought us to the edge of our self-knowledge.
They boarded the Sunbeam bus and were gone.
I found Abel waiting at the carrier, waiting with his cousin who was a cop in Lami town (a suburb of Suva). Not wanting me to waste my money on a hostel room while taking care of business, they invited me to set up camp at the home of Sulia, yet another relative in the intricate web of Nakavika family clans. I accepted, knowing that was the right gesture but still tensing with the possibilities of unfortunate reoccurrence.
It Happened. I'm Finally Numb.
Grabbing my bags from the hostel and fetching a bus twenty minutes down the road, I arrived with Abel at the home of his cousins. Sulia greeted and invited me to sit on the floor; instantly I felt naked without my sulu. Pulling it out of my bag and draping my lap, I sat in on a hymnal sing-a-long, a daily prayer and lesson time for toddlers and the elderly alike.
The pacific affair soon morphed into something that should have shaken my soul, but it didn't. Abele, third oldest son to recently deceased Elias, was staying at Sulia's house while making his many visits to the doctor. Apparently, the sudden passing of his father knocked him into a different state of being, one where he frequently exhibited signs of the devil's work at hand. His snake-like slither across floors was the talk of the village the week prior, and now he was getting medical attention in town.
Sulia and her husband paused during their devotionals to call Abele into the center of the room. Coating their hands with pools of coconut oil, the man of the house grabbed Abele's hands while Sulia doused his forehead and neck with steady hands. Prayers were muttered. They grew in decibel. It occurred to me after a minute or two what I was witnessing, when she shouted a phrase in English:
I urge you to release the demons inside this boy!
It came out with...fervor. I was witnessing an exorcism.
I don't even think I blinked off beat. You would have thought I was sitting in an empty room with nothing to do, rather than observing one of the oddest and most terrifying moments in my travel life. I wasn't even running through the list of people to which I would recount the story. I was a mound of flesh in the periphery, the organism formerly known as human.
Twenty minutes later we set the table for dinner.
Bobbing for Mussels
When Abel asked two days later if I wanted to go fishing, I had a brief moment in between analyzing my productivity timetable where I considered an outing at sea. Consumed with documenting our experience, setting up the Nakavika Project website with our new objectives, and finding comfort in a little slice of home while still abroad, I lost my adventurous nature - seemingly having overdosed at this point. However, the idea of fishing in Suva Harbor gave me a fleeting thought:
Am I not here to experience? What kind of traveler holes up in an internet cafe for days on end?
I put on my bathing suit and walking along the highway to an inlet harboring our seafaring vessel: two layers of styrofoam, sandwiched in thin aluminum the size and shape of a door. I put my camera away in a nearby, you guessed it, relative's home. We took to the sea with one clueless girl, three guys, a bucket of something, and a paddle.
The boys traversed an incredibly deep portion of the harbor and found shallow waters where mussels grow. I sat in full exposure to some mean UV rays and felt increasingly useless, until I picked up a knife and started shucking the shellfish. I'm not one to take kindly to sea creatures, but for some reason the blood pockets and tongue-like muscles didn't bother me. I took pride in cleaning them, actually, removing anything odd-looking and placing them in a small bowl filled with lemon juice and chilies.
Passing out from a battering by the elements, I awoke when we hit something solid. Opening my eyes, I felt a surge of adrenaline. We were on top of a shipwreck.
We climbed, barefoot, across the rusted surface now covered in dried mollusks and graffiti. It was shiver-inducing just how big this baby was. The boys climbed around, trying to identify the different rooms from this odd sideways angle. An oil slick coated every pool of stagnant water. It was a rush and an experience I never thought I'd get. I stood atop a sunken ship.
Back To The Way It Was
Most of my days that week were spent creating videos, staying on track with my publishing schedule, and planning the one week of vacation I allotted for myself. When I would return to Sulia's house, regardless of all the kindness exhibited to me, I would experience unnerving flashbacks to my own failures, to the scary and the unbearable in terms of emotional beatings. Coming back would be a clashing of the two worlds, my brain getting slammed with the first indication of the switch.
And one of those moments when I returned from Suva, which became my final return, to a home atop a hill filled with clotheslines, homemade toys, outdoor bathrooms, and big family dinners of taro and noodles, I noticed that which steered us away from Nakavika for the last time, a reminder to the vast difference I couldn't overlook between the cultures. It saddened me, an abuse of crutches, a misunderstanding of the body, mind, and its reaction to life. Though I was assured I wasn't, I felt threatened, and it was due time to extract myself from situations that made me feel horrible about myself and fear rash behavior in others.
Though terribly numb, I decided without hesitation, unwilling to waver my stance based on a strong persuasion to stay by the family, that I had to leave. I had to be alone, to put space between here and there in order to gain the perspective I desperately needed.
And as far as partings go, this one was exceptionally rough.
Tears spewed out of everyone's eyes, some came twice to say heartfelt goodbyes, and Abel was left standing on the sidewalk crying, watching my taxi pull away. Our project represented a lot for him, but unfortunately the collaboration couldn't be as we all wanted it to be. Instead we implored him to do what he felt was right, to continue helping the children by leading by example. While I watched him in the side mirror growing smaller, it was evident he didn't believe he could be the man he wanted to be without a little help from those who expected his best.